With yet another harvest season commencing in the vineyards of Europe it’s nostalgia time for me, with memories of the last year’s harvest in the picture perfect vineyards of Beaujolais. The region has such cult status that it needs no introduction to true lovers of wine, however,a brief background would definitely be in order to fill the gaps in knowledge, whatsoever, of this famed wine region.
The name ‘Beaujolais’ has its genesis in the word Beau (French) +Jugum(Latin) meaning “Beautiful Hill”. Located towards south of Burgundy in France, Beaujolais is synonymous with mostly young wines noted for their unmistakable fruity character and low tannins , making them easy drinking and flavourful . Majority of the wine in Beaujolais is made from the red Gamay grape varietal, though there is a miniscule 1% Beaujolais Blanc made from its famous Burgundian cousin- Chardonnay.
The history of Beaujolais is quite interesting as it represents a success story of a grape that was once looked down upon by the people in power. In the 13th century, the Duke of Burgundy branded Gamay as ‘disloyal and harmful to human beings’ just to favour Pinot Noir that was considered the grape of nobles. This partisan treatment banished Gamay from the Burgundian vineyards until 19th century post French revolution. Beaujolais however remained resilient and developed Gamay to the extent that Beaujolais Nouveau is now an enviable marketing paradigm, with the wine being released for consumption less than three months from harvest! For quick details on Beaujolais wines, see snapshot at the end of this post.
I visited Beaujolais when the harvest for the year was about to begin and the vineyards were flush with berries. Arriving at Belleville sur Saône which is the nearest railway station 30 minutes by train from the major French city of Lyon I was received by my host Aurélien Fiardet, Export Manager at Terroirs Originels , a Cooperative with 25 independent estates managed by the winemakers themselves. Without losing time we drove straight to the first of the vineyards situated at Côtes de Brouilly and my harvest experience started pronto! Winemaker after another, the experience went as follows:
Domaine Emmanuel Fellot
Wines : Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais Blanc and Côtes de Brouilly.
This was my first engagement at Côte de Brouilly where I was to participate in the harvest. I was lucky to arrive at the vineyard when the harvesting team was on a short break with some delectable wines and cured meats including the famous French Saucisson. Emmanuel introduced me to the team amid the culinary pleasures and thereafter lost no time in handing me over a harvest bucket with a pair of clippers and a seasoned team member to guide me on picking the right berries. What followed was pure harvest bliss that I had been dreaming -of, in order to qualify myself as having “been there and done that”!
I sampled Emmanuel’s Vielles Vignes 2006 Beaujolais Villagesat the vineyard itself and found it absolutely delightful with a mouth filling juiciness and flavours of red fruits, flowers and spice.
Domaine Robert Perroud
Wines : Brouilly, Côtes de Brouilly and Beaujolais Nouveau
One of the founding members of Terroirs Originels who continues to be an active helmsman till date, it was amazing to note how Robert continued being involved in his estates to the minutest of details and is yet able to fulfil his responsibilities towards the Cooperative to the hilt! I spent the major part of my stay at Beaujolais with Robert- from the harvesting at his Côte de Brouilly estate to accompanying the grape laden trucks to the winery and further-on till the vinification. During the lunch with his team, Robert explained about the varying styles of his wines and how the different terroir across short distances enables him to produce interesting wines with remarkably distinct characteristics. At lunch I sampled all his wines with a delectable yet simple spread . During the lunch, Aurélien’s slip of tongue calling the Tomato Pie as Pizza, was greeted by uproarious laughter by his French mates citing his prolonged American association !
Vignobles Laurent Gauthier
Wines : Morgon, Chirouble, and Beaujolais Villages Rosé
Taking a break from Brouilly, my next stop was at the famed Cru of Morgon where Laurent Gauthier lives and deftly manages his estates that date back to 1834. The first on agenda was to visit his steep vineyards of Côte du Py (Morgon) – the sheer beauty of which more than made up for every drop of the harvesting sweat! We thereafter headed for his tasting room where I could see spools of labels intended for the 2012 harvest. We sampled the 2010 and 2011 vintages, with the flavours ranging from floral and fruity to powerful and racy. His Rosé, described in his words as an “Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove” courtesy its sophisticated yet robust character, is a runaway hit in the US market. Laurent’s love for terroir was clearly reflected in his wines that presented uniquely discernible traits.
Vignobles Lucien Lardy
Wines : Fleurie, Morgon , Moulin-à-Vent and Beaujolais Villages
Another founding member of the Terroirs Originels , Lucien Lardy has a diverse portfolio of wines. Monsieur and Madame Lardy accompanied us to their vineyards at Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent where I again took charge of a clipping tool and bucket to get up close and personal with the grapes.
The wine portfolio of Lucien Lardy also includes a Beaujolais Blanc and to my surprise- a Crémant (sparkling) wine made using the Methode Traditionelle (secondary fermentation in bottle). We tasted all of these in his elaborate tasting room and once again, the diversity of wines was well embossed.
This concluded my short but fulfilling experience of harvest and it was time to bid Au Revoir to Beaujolais. My experience concluded with Aurélien showing me around the massive facility of Georges Dubœuf- the biggest marketer of Beaujolais wines, and a familiar name of the wine world. Getting dropped by Aurélien at my hotel in Lyon further afforded me a great view of the countryside abundant with rolling hills canopied by a pristine azure sky. The Beaujolais charm continues to stay with me nonetheless.
And finally- wines of three winemakers I visited (Emmanuel Fellot, Robert Perroud and Lucien Lardy) have been selected by Jancis Robinson,MW– the demi Goddess of wine world- as the best wines from the region. It thrills me no end to believe that some of the grapes gone into making these may well have passed my hands !
Total Cultivation area : 23000 hectares under two departments- Rhône-Alps and Saône-et-Loire (Burgundy).
Average Annual Production : 8,25,000 hecto litres (133 million bottles)
Exports : More than 40% exported to around 135 countries
Wine Style : Charecterised by Carbonic Maceration that extracts more fruit flavours and less tannins.
|Beaujolais Nouveau||Young and fruity wines best consumed within a year of production|
|Beaujolais Supérieur||Same as Beaujolais Nouveau but with more alcohol percentage|
|Beaujolais Villages||Wines produced with grapes produced in better notified areas, closer to the prestigious slopes of Cru Beaujolais.|
|Cru Beaujolais||0 classified areas that produce complex, variedly styled and and many age worthy wines. These areas are- Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas,
Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Regnié and St-Amour.